Chicago Nurses Say: We Need a Robin Hood Tax!

by Bob Simpson

National Nurses United(NNU) took up the cause of Robin Hood at Chicago’s downtown J.P. Morgan Chase building on June 19. With its merry band of tax reforming nurses, the NNU held a lunch hour rally to press for a financial transactions tax (FTT) or as it is more commonly called, a “Robin Hood Tax”. Chicago was among 15 cities where similar rallies were held.

Easily recognized by their red scrubs along with their Robin Hood hats and masks, NNU  members described the Robin Hood tax in signs that read,”It’s Not a Tax On the People. It’s a Tax For the People.”

It's not a tax on the people

Continuing a campaign that saw several thousand nurses and their supporters in Chicago’s Daley Plaza during NATO week, the nurses hope that Congress will pass such a tax to help finance a genuine economic recovery by investing in housing, education, health, infrastructure, green jobs and other needs.

It’s a simple straightforward levy that would add a tax of 0.5% on certain Wall Street transactions. It’s basically a sales tax, and one at a percentage far lower than the common sales taxes Americans pay on everyday necessities. The NNU estimates that it could bring in as much as 350 billion in needed revenue. Forty countries already have something like it and more are considering it including France and Germany. We even had such a tax until 1966.

The Robin Hood Tax proposed by the NNU would not affect small investors or such common consumer activity as debit cards, ATM’s, personal savings and the like. It’s aimed at the rapid fire exotic mega-transactions where traders turn Wall Street into a Las Vegas-East, minus the colorful lights and the minimally dressed dancers.

It was that type of casino-style gambling that brought on the foreclosure crisis, the 2008 Financial Crash and the recent 2 billion dollar loss at J.P. Morgan Chase. A Robin Hood Tax would discourage such reckless trading, which would be a bonus.

While National Nurses United has been the most visible group behind the push for a Robin Hood Tax in the USA, the NNU is part of a movement that according to includes “…unions, nurses, small business owners, community organizations, faith communities, AIDS activists, environmentalists, movie stars, and musicians.”

NNU Rally

It also has support from such certified 1 Percenters as “…Microsoft founder Bill Gates, mogul Mark Cuban, financier George Soros, entrepreneur extraordinaire Warren Buffet.”

The Chicago NNU Rally

 I arrived at the JP Morgan Chase building at around 11:45 on June 19, and NNU members were already there handing out small palm cards explaining the Robin Hood Tax and engaging passersby in conversations. I recognized NNU activists Martese Chism and Jan Rodolfo who were among 125 arrested (including me) at an Occupy Chicago sit-in at Grant Park last fall. Unfurling banners and holding signs, the protesters engaged in spirited chanting,” Tax Wall Street, not the people” and the old favorite, “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.”

NNU Rally
In front of  J.P. Morgan Chase in Chicago

Jan Rodolfo led off the short rally with a brief explanation of the Robin Hood Tax:

“The Robin Hood tax is a tiny tax, 0.5% which is only cents on the dollar at the point of sale. And with this tax we’re going to raise 350 billion dollars every year for the United States. That’s enough to take care of every state deficit three times over.”

She was followed by a representative from Hunger Strike for Life who told the crowd:

 ”I’m on my 5th day of a hunger strike. I joined my companions who have been on a hunger strike for 17 days already. We are at 26th Street in Little Village.”

They began the hunger strike because two undocumented brothers were having trouble obtaining lifesaving liver transplants. He announced that the University of Illinois Hospital had agreed to treat both brothers.

The group plans to extend their protest to other Chicago hospitals who have delayed or refused transplants to undocumented immigrants. According to a recent report by the AMA, undocumented immigrants donate far more organs then they receive.

NNU Rally

Skieppy, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, spoke of the veteran mental crisis and the need for more funding. A representative of the Chicago Federation of Labor offered his support and Martese Chism of the NNU finished the rally by saying:

”In these times when we are struggling everyday, J.P. Morgan Chase’s reckless behavior has trashed our economy. We could raise hundreds of billions of dollars with a Robin Hood Tax. It’s  tax that could bring a big change in America.”

 But why are nurses concerned about taxation policy?

Nurses see the results of our growing economic inequality every day.  Nurses treat the gunshot wounds in big city ER’s, the malnourished children, the workers poisoned or injured because safety inspections have been cut back, the people with chronic illnesses brought on by pollution, the patients who cannot afford their medication, the expectant moms who lack the wherewithal to get prenatal care, the combat veterans plagued with PTSD who feared to reveal their condition to superiors, the homeless families wracked by the stress of poverty, the list goes on…

Nurse exaustion

Nurses too have been deeply affected. Nurses can find themselves rushing from patient to patient making life and death decisions in understaffed hospitals where money is the only concern of top management. The stress and heartache this creates has driven some fine and caring people out of the nursing profession altogether.

Our widening wealth gap is making America sick and nurses are trained to be healers.

Nurses have a long history of social activism.

Clara Barton, regarded as the founder of modern American nursing was a suffragist and civil rights activist. Lillian Wald was a leader in the movement for public health, based on her experiences in the early 20th century urban immigrant slums. Anarchist Emma Goldman was a nurse who fought for better reproductive health for women, including distribution of birth control. Nurses Margaret Sanger, Lillian Wald, and Lavinia Dock were all anti-war  activists of the early 20th century. During the Great Depression, the American Nurses Association lobbied for relief to aid the thousands of unemployed nurses.

In the wake of the 1954 Brown decision, the National Student Nurses Association began a campaign to end racial discrimination in the profession which eventually became the Breakthrough to Nursing Project. Today the Project continues its work by advocating for better immigrant health care and other public health initiatives. During the Vietnam War, nurses expressed their opposition through the Medical Committee for Human Rights. In the 1980s, the Nurses Alliance for the Prevention of Nuclear War was active during that particularly dangerous period of the Cold War. Nurses today are working for universal health care with the NNU advocating Medicare for All.

 National Nurses United: not your typical union

National Nurses United represents a brand of unionism that went out of fashion in the early 1950s when the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) went into decline because of government repression and internal power struggles. The CIO had tried to represent the interests of the entire working class, not just its own dues paying members.

NNU Rally

Individual unions have been criticized over the years for focusing narrowly on the short-term interests of their own members, behaving in some ways like companies who only care about their own stockholders. This has been a factor in the decline of unions and in creating disasters like the Wisconsin recall debacle. The NNU is among those unions who reject this narrow brand of parochial unionism and work for a labor movement that represents the entire working class in all of its social complexity.

Although it does not say so explicitly NNU is trying heal the deeply wounded American labor movement through campaigns like the Robin Hood Tax which benefit more than just the nurses the NNU represents in contract negotiations.

Even though the NNU is asking for a modest 0.5% financial transactions tax, it has met with heavy resistance from Wall Street and even the White House. What the opponents fear about the Robin Hood Tax is not that it might fail, but that it might succeed. What if it improved education, health care, infrastructure, the environment, created some green jobs or lowered deficits? That would be a real blow against the austerity fever that grips Washington as well as other world capitals. Heck, the citizenry might even demand more taxation from the wealthy and make more improvements in working class life.  We could become an example for the world, instead of being regarded as a reckless gambler and armed bully. What a change that would be.


Sources Consulted 

National Nurses United 

The Robin Hood Tax is here 

Nurse Activism: A repository of resources, theory, and tools for the engaged nurse

Breakthrough to Nursing by Diane J. Mancino

U.S. Health Professionals Oppose War by Walter J. Lear

The Stupidity of the Robin Hood Tax Reaches America by Tim Worstal

Bob “Bobbo” Simpson  spent many years as a history teacher on the South Side of Chicago in a working class neighborhood. He is now a social media writer based out of Oak Park Illinois. He works for WebTraxStudio which does work for unions, non-profit groups, social advocacy organizations and educational institutions.  He is also 1/2 of the Carol Simpson labor cartoon team. This post first appeared on his diary at Daily Kos, go there and recommend it.


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